Case study: The State of Florida Department of Revenue's SUNTAX system has influenced the way tax agencies worldwide provide customer service.
Tax agencies arent exactly known for staying ahead of the technological curve, but the State of Florida Department of Revenue has implemented an ambitious CRM initiative that has influenced the way tax agencies worldwide provide customer service.
In the early 1990s, after years of relying on disparate legacy systems for tax administration, the FDOR conducted an internal audit of its customer service strategy. The verdict: The agencys customer relationship management was woefully lacking.
Bogged down by paperwork, confusing tax laws and red tape, businesses were paying only a percentage of what they owed the state of Florida. Customer service agents scrambled to handle taxpayer inquiries by querying almost a dozen systems. A static Web page that listed different tax laws was horribly out-of-date.
In short, the FDOR, based in Tallahassee, had become exactly what officials feareda government bureaucracy that taxpayers loathed working with.
Today, however, using the FDORs SUNTAX (System for Unified Taxation) system, businesses tax files are accessible to FDOR agents as soon as they begin speaking with an organizations tax agent. When a taxpayer calls the FDOR to register to pay sales tax, an agent query of the SUNTAX system will automatically register the business for all applicable taxes based on its profile. And FDOR agents can leverage a single view of each taxpayer across the organization, allowing the agents to answer questions faster and more effectively.
In addition, taxpayers who prefer self-service can now register, pay their bills, check the status of their refunds, file a return, make a change of address and obtain tax information by accessing the FDOR portal at www.myflorida. com/dor.
The FDORs SUNTAX project has been so successful, in fact, that it has served as a model for tax agencies across the globe: Since the FDOR launched SUNTAX, the agency has hosted events for 24 countries, from Zimbabwe to Mexico, to demonstrate the benefits tax agencies can gain by providing quality customer service.
The agencys decision to kick-start a CRM strategy came as it confronted the promise of the Internet and the state of Floridas e-government initiatives. From the beginning, the FDORs CRM approach was clear: Focus on the customer experience the agency wanted to deliver, not on the technology being deployed.
"We had to tackle whats really unique about the tax and revenue business: You have these universal taxpayers, and youre not sure how much money they owe you at any given time or how much theyre planning to pay you," said Jim Evers, director of the FDOR General Tax Administration Program. "You are also charged with making it as easy as possible for a taxpayer to meet the burden of their tax payments."
The FDOR manages about 1.2 million business taxpayers (the state has no personal income tax), collecting a total of about $30 billion a year. This means processing more than 800,000 returns monthly.
The FDORs move toward CRM began in 1992, when it commissioned a study from Andersen Consulting (which later became Accenture Ltd.) to justify legislative funding for an integrated tax system. The feasibility study found that an integrated tax system could generate a return of $250,000 per year, at a total cost of $60 million.
At the time, the FDOR was running several stand-alone, homegrown tax systems on a Unisys 2200 mainframe. As many as 10 systems performed billing, collection and auditing for 56 tax and fee categories.
The FDOR considered building a general ledger accounting system but decided to wait on the project. In 1996, the FDOR gained approval from the state Legislature to move forward. However, the agency shifted its project focus from accounting to ERP (enterprise resource planning), a technology the FDOR would customize and use as a launchpad for its CRM strategy.
The project, called SUNTAX, was designed by FDOR staff and consultants to integrate tax systems using client/server system architecture, and it included initiatives intended to make the FDOR as accessible as possible to taxpayers.
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As a senior writer for eWEEK Labs, Anne writes articles pertaining to IT professionals and the best practices for technology implementation. Anne covers the deployment issues and the business drivers related to technologies including databases, wireless, security and network operating systems. Anne joined eWeek in 1999 as a writer for eWeek's eBiz Strategies section before moving over to Labs in 2001. Prior to eWeek, she covered business and technology at the San Jose Mercury News and at the Contra Costa Times.